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Do Homework Before Building a New Home

Homeowners usually decide to build a new home to be able to choose more options than they can find in an existing house and/or to live in a specific location. For something very unique, they could choose a timber framed, log, panelized, or other type of “kit” home. These homes are constructed with “building systems” prefabricated in a factory or other controlled environment, then delivered to the building site for completion. However, the vast majority of homes built in the United States are conventionally framed on site from the ground up.

Lumber is by far the most popular framing material for homes, though a dwindling supply of old growth trees and environmental concerns have steadily increased the price of wood while quality has declined. Steel framing studs, used to frame commercial buildings for generations, are gaining in popularity for the residential market because they do not deteriorate and can withstand extreme wind and other weather conditions better than wood. Steel is still more expensive and requires different techniques and tools. For this reason, it may not be an option most homebuilders will offer.

If you want to build on a remote site-in the woods, at the beach, or on a mountain-research the availability of electricity, water, telephone and other utility services and consider any potential difficulties the location might pose to construction crews before purchasing the land. Be aware of any regulations or restrictions, including zoning and covenant ordinances, for each particular area you are considering.

Next, consider your needs, desires, and budget for your home. Do you have to have at least three bedrooms and two bathrooms? A kitchen for two cooks? A big back yard for kids and dogs? Would you like a finished basement? Home office space? A workroom? Bay windows? How much house can you buy with your down payment and mortgage? Prepare for trade-offs when deciding which options and upgrades are worth the extra expense to you and when standard items will suffice.

Once you identify these priorities, you can begin considering home designs. Start by browsing through magazines, home design catalogs and books, and visiting model homes.

If buying within a development, look for a company that offers designs that most closely match your desires and fit your budget. Consider the variety of exterior features (siding or roofing) and determine which are standard with the designs you like and which ones cost extra. Next, check to see if interior options exist. If you want vaulted ceilings in the living room, would the builder include them for an extra fee or are you limited to the options they offer? Could you add extra cabinets? Roll-out shelves? Do you have any special electrical, heating, or air conditioning needs? After you have the exterior and interior look determined, ask about extras. Will the builder install basic landscaping (for example, sod)? Can you afford these extras?

For a custom home, you could hire an architect or building designer to help you design your home and draw the plans, then contact several different builders to bid on the construction. You might also be able to order a set of house plans online, and hire a residential designer to customize a few details. Make sure they comply with your local building codes. Another approach would be to find a builder willing to build his floor plan on your lot, or look for a Design/Build contractor to do the whole project from design through to construction.

Before making your final decision, look at homes built by the builder you are considering and also homes under construction. Drive by on a weekend when homeowners are outside doing chores and talk to them about buying a home from their builder. Ask if they found the builder easy to contact, fair with change order work, and if the workers were clean and timely? People usually will tell you if they are pleased with their homes-or why they are not.

If you live in an area that is experiencing a housing development boom, ask about the amount of time the builder can spend with you throughout construction of your home if you have questions. Does the builder use his own crews or subcontract everything out?

How are change orders handled-do you have to pay for changes as soon as you order them or are they added on the final price of the home? Will he allow you to do anything yourself or bring in your own specialty subcontractors? Can you supply any of your own materials?

Also be clear about warranty issues if problems should arise after you move into the new house. Ask the builder what kind of service you can expect after the sale.

Each ounce of thought and planning put in at the development stage will be worth a pound of satisfaction when your new home is complete.

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